I'm wondering if there is much difference in the pronunciation of the words or intonation of them. Is it just the long vowel?

1 Answer 1

  • おじいさん with the long //iː// sound means "grandfather".

  • おじさん with the short //i// sound means "uncle".

In modern Japanese, these are distinguished by vowel length and by pitch accent -- "grandfather" has a downstep after the second mora, so the ji is a higher pitch than the second i: おじいさん{LHLLL}, whereas "uncle" has no downstep: おじさん{LHHH}.

Looking at the derivations, the initial o- in "grandfather" is an honorific prefix, and the -san on the end is an honorific suffix. The root term is , from older jiji (still encountered occasionally, often meaning "old man"), from ancient didi.

Meanwhile, in "uncle", the -san on the end is an honorific suffix, but the o- on the front is part of the root term, oji. This is from older woji, from ancient wodi.

  • I can't figure out how to format for the pitch accent, with the red lines above or below the kana. If anyone could add that to this post, I'd be most grateful. Feb 5, 2019 at 19:25
  • Does that look alright?
    – BJCUAI
    Feb 5, 2019 at 19:32
  • @user27280: Tweaked and expanded. Thank you! Feb 5, 2019 at 19:41
  • @EiríkrÚtlendi see japanese.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/806/… for details on the special markdown additions for the Japanese SE site. (there's also a link to that page at the top of the markdown editing "advanced help" page)
    – Foogod
    Mar 2, 2020 at 20:29
  • @Foogod, thanks, but already solved over a year ago. :) Cheers! Mar 2, 2020 at 22:00

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